Lecture? Not on Your Life!

497_1lecture_hallRemember those student days, 300 joyous students packed into a stuffy and windowless lecture hall.  The professor enters, strolls to the lectern, and begins preaching, I mean, presenting.  Ugh, my stomach is churning with just the thought.

Don’t get my wrong, I enjoy a truly entertaining presentation.  In fact, I absolutely LOVE watching TEDtalks and do it quite frequently.  But what is it that makes TEDtalks more acceptable than traditional lectures?  Well, for starters, they are limited to roughly 15 minutes in length, the amount of time researchers have demonstrated as the higher bound of engaged listening.  But they are also mildly (I emphasize, mildly) more interactive than most academic lectures.

Occasionally, I have students who request that I provide them lectures, instead of the seminar and discussion-based format that make up much of the classes I teach.  Much to their chagrin, I steadfastly refuse these requests, for the following reasons:

  • OneWaySigns-OPTLectures are one-way – I believe adult learning happens most effectively when there is a two-way pathway between facilitator and learner.  In fact, I would argue that it’s really a pathway between learner and Learner, as the facilitator stands to learn just as much from the interaction as the student does.
  • Lectures are about repetition – As a course designer, I spend considerable time reviewing a number of different texts before I select those that I’ll use in the class.  Therefore, I’m comfortable that the information provided is what the students need (and if a textbook doesn’t get at the nuance I would like about a topic, I supplement it with articles that do).  What many students who request lectures or PowerPoint presentations are really seeking is a way around reading the actual texts.
  • Discussions are more effective learning media – As a professor, my time is as precious as my students’, and I need to prioritize those learning activities that I believe will be most beneficial in a limited time period.  Whether online or in-person, I believe the diversity of thought, individual experiences, and perspectives available to be leveraged to discuss the readings and/or other presentation modes for a particular topic results in higher levels of learning.
  • I am always learning – Again, perhaps self-centered, but I’m always looking to learn more about a given topic. (In reality, I do NOT think this is self-centered, as the more I learn, the better I am at challenging and provoking reflection and changes in thoughts, perspective, and behavior in my students).  Lectures do not allow for significant learning on my part, whereas discussions and observation of applied activities do.

A Key to Leadership GrowthThis topic is front and center for me this week, as I’m simultaneously engaged in both evaluating the work of one group of finishing students and launching into another class with a fresh new group.  And I realize my approach is permissible largely because I am interacting entirely (within these two classes) with graduate learners.  Perhaps with a class of first-year undergraduates, my approach my be more pedagogical.  But, then again…likely not.

One thought on “Lecture? Not on Your Life!

  1. Students often say, “I studied 40 hours for this exam and I still didn’t do well. Where did I go wrong?” Most instructors hear this complaint every year. In many cases, it is true that the student invested countless hours, only to produce abysmal results. Often, inefficient study habits are to blame. The important question is: why do so many students have difficulty preparing themselves for organic chemistry exams? There are certainly several factors at play here, but perhaps the most dominant factor is a fundamental disconnect between what students learn and the tasks expected of them. To address the disconnect in organic chemistry instruction, David Klein has developed a textbook that utilizes a skills-based approach to instruction. The textbook includes all of the concepts typically covered in an organic chemistry textbook, but special emphasis is placed on skills development to support these concepts. This emphasis upon skills development will provide students with a greater opportunity to develop proficiency in the key skills necessary to succeed in organic chemistry.

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